Friendship and Focaccia on the Catharine Valley Trail
Story and photos by Janet McCue
Cross-country skiing on Hammond Hill can be invigorating. In the Finger Lakes National Forest, it’s contemplative as you glide through the quiet splendor of soaring pines on the Interlaken Trail. But when you’re up for conversational side-by-side skiing, the wider trails of the Catharine Valley Trail (CVT) couldn’t be better. My friend Ashley and I headed to Watkins Glen to pick up the CVT behind the high school and catch up with each other on a Saturday afternoon ski.
When all you see in front of you is a white expanse around a cluster of school buildings and athletic fields, it can be hard to find the “real” trailhead but after fumbling for a few minutes, we found the CVT and picked up our conversation. Along the trail, we met a few solitary skiers as well as a family with two young sons learning the art of cross-country skiing from their dad. The CVT was a labor of love. Ed Hoffman, an attorney in Elmira began believing, negotiating and working for the trail in the early 1990s; later NYS Parks incorporated the CVT into their operations and completed the trail in 2014. Now a 12-mile system, starting in Watkins Glen and ending at Mark Twain State Park in Horseheads, it goes through several towns that are worth a stop. Our destination today was Montour Falls.
Montour Falls has one of the most beautiful cascades (Shequaga Falls) in the Finger Lakes, it has the “Glorious T,” a cluster of striking 19th-century brick buildings, including the Montour Falls Memorial Library with its bay window of Tiffany glass, and it has some worthy lunch spots. Ashley and I were late lunchers so the Harvest Café was not an option for us. Instead we were lucky to make it to the Montour House Café & Tapas Bar just before their 3:00 closing time.
And what a reward we had! We leaned our skis on the marble fireplace in front of the compact kitchen of the Café. Located in one of those glorious brick buildings, the Café is an inviting addition to the Montour House, which was built in 1854 and lovingly renovated in the 21st century into a mixed-use building with businesses on the first floor and loft apartments on the upper floors.
Waiting in line behind a mother and her two daughters who had finished their sled-riding and were ready for hot chocolate, we opted for the grown-up special: a slow-roasted veggie sandwich on homemade focaccia and a glass of Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling. Did we regret not ordering the Ahi Tuna with apples and walnut dressing? Not a whit! The vegetables were roasted to perfection and the side salad with white balsamic dressing was the real deal with fresh spinach, artichokes and crisp cucumbers. We sat at the bar, two friends savoring our sandwiches and our conversation in the warm sunshine that poured into the Café. Our final indulgence was a chocolate truffle, handmade by chef Steve Sours, who owns the café with his wife, Patti. Fortified, Ashley and I were ready to tackle the frozen landscape and ski our way back to Watkins Glen.
Another section of the CVT that offers a sweet reward is the longer segment between Montour Falls and Millport. Stop by Millport Landing on the creek for a cup of tea and a homemade peanut butter cookie dipped in dark chocolate. Gluten-free? Cross the road to the Millport Mercantile where you can enjoy a freshly baked oatmeal cookie. Don’t forget to pick up some of their honey-roasted peanut butter—just in case you want to make your own sandwich for your next ski!
My next excursion? The Mecklenburg Fireman’s Breakfast followed by a ski on one of the most beautiful trails in the Finger Lakes: the Cayuta Outlet Trail.
Janet McCue is an avid hiker who enjoys both the beauty and the bounty of the Finger Lakes. Her website follows her six-day culinary trek through the Finger Lakes, a journey that Edible Finger Lakes covered in its July/August 2014 issue (“Hike to Eat”).
For more of Janet’s adventures, check out her story on skiing and eating on Ithaca’s Black Diamond Trail.